James Richards: Leeds swimming coach

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water sport: James Richards, 26, is a Leeds swimming coach who is training the next generation of Olympic hopefuls in the city. JAYNE DAWSON reports.

James Richards had his first swimming lesson aged four - and never stopped. Now he starts work at 4.45am teaching the city’s most promising swimmers - and also travels the world to help other swimmers. He is single and lives in Tingley, Leeds.

My first job was washing dishes in a hotel opposite York Minster which my auntie managed. I was 14 and I worked one night a week. I did it for two years and then I trained to be a lifeguard.

I have received two good pieces of advice in my life. The first is that to get the rewards you have to put in the effort, and the second is that small changes will add up to a big difference.

I have been teaching swimming since I was 14 years old and I was nominated by the Amateur Swimming Association to run clinics abroad in countries with much worse facilities than ours. I have travelled to Kenya, Cambodia, Nigeria and the Bahamas to train their swimming coaches.

I am a lucky guy. I take leave to allow me to travel and I am grateful to Leeds City Council for allowing me to do it. What I have learned is that our swimming facilities in Leeds are incredible. The children in poor countries are learning to swim in rivers, not in well equipped sports centres.

I planned to be a PE teacher. I was a bit of a naughty boy at school , but my PE teacher inspired me. I was always into sport, I liked rugby and athletics as well as swimming. In the end I decided I wanted to be a swimming coach. Teaching people who were motivated to succeed appealed to me.

Early morning starts are fine by me. I find them easy. The morning training session starts at 4.45am and finishes at 7am. The kids arrive in their onesies, with their school uniforms on a coat hanger. Their parents bring them, it is a massive commitment and they are are just as dedicated as the children.

My pet hate is people who do things slowly. People who drive slowly, people who go through the supermarket checkout slowly - it really irritates me.

I work on Saturday mornings - but I still enjoy the weekend. I enjoy a night out featuring the odd lager or, if I’m pushing the boat out, a Long Island Tea cocktail.

Who would I most like to meet? Muhammad Ali, without a doubt

My advice to my teenage self would to not be quite so confident. I wasn’t a shy teenager, just the opposite. I was the class clown, the one who argued back with the teachers. I’m not particularly proud of it, but it does mean I understand the teenage boys I coach now, because I was one of those who resented the rules myself. If I was speaking to that boy now, I would say: “think before you act.”

I do a lot on social media. I am always on there, reading things, posting things, making calls. It is part of life.

I don’t do worrying so my philosophy on life is to try to enjoy every day and not to dwell on things. We have to live for the moment. There is no point saving for a rainy day, because it will probably never happen.

I couldn’t live without my phone. I am a heavy user.

My most embarrassing moment happened when I was about 12 and found myself accidentally swimming naked. It was a competition and I was late getting to the starting block. Before I could tie my trunks the race was started. By 25 metres they were round my ankles. At the turn I just had to flick them off and swim the return leg naked. Then I had to get out of the pool in front of at least a 100 people. I just laughed. What else could I do?

I don’t cry easily. The last time was when a friend died earlier this year.

It might surprise people to know that I am really uncomfortable with odd numbers. I don’t like them. The television volume has to be on an even number and I like people to swim an even number of lengths.

My childhood was very good, I think my parents did a good job. I once told my dad in the car that I wanted to give up swimming so he offered to drop me off on the street, next to a group of schoolkids I really didn’t want to be anything like. I got the point.

My first kiss was with Helen in the school corridor when I was about eleven. We ended up going out with each other off and on all through school.

I can’t remember the first record I ever bought. I fancied the Spice Girls - but I couldn’t stand their music.

I’m from York originally but I like living in Leeds. I see quite a bit of it because I travel round to different sports centres, and I like the variety of the different areas. Plus, it’s a good party city.

Ian Watkins

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